Friday, February 26, 2010

sunset from home
February 26, 2010

The lighting in the sky and on the water was an incredible color.

ps 04/11/10 - I'm still having trouble sleeping, especially after our trip to Rome. With less than a week before I leave again, I'm attempting to upload as many blog posts as I can.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

California sea lion
Zalophus californianus

Sea lions are so much cuter when they're smaller. Sigh, yes, my parents took us to SeaWorld San Diego as kids and to this day I still view sea lions as trainable circus curiosities with beach balls on their noses, something like (gag!) dancing elephants, women with beards, or Siamese twins, hence my general disinterest in these animals.

Thanks to this creagus site, I just learned the larger sea lions I often see along the Coast Guard Pier may be Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus)... and here I thought they were simply older and grumpier versions of the smaller boys. Additionally, I've always thought we had sea lions in Monterey year round, and some years, like last year towards the end of May, the local population explodes. I can usually smell the extra sea lions well before I hear or see them.

I should look into learning more about our local sea lions, particularly in regard to seasonal fluctuations considering several reputable online sites claim both species are mainly in Monterey during the fall and winter, with some in the spring and summer. I have found the opposite is true. I have photo evidence that large groups are here at the end of May and well into the summer, so I beg to differ with the experts. Hmm?

bat star ~ 02/24/10 ~ Coast Guard Pier

bat star
Patiria miniata

It's always fun to see a brightly colored sea star.

Maybe it shows my age, but I still want to call it a starfish. I wrote my first term paper in the 5th grade on starfish, "Echinoderms: Eating Out." I liked the big fancy name echinoderm and, admittedly, largely copied my paper verbatim out of our home set of the World Book Encyclopedia - apologies, Mrs. Wilson!

A friend of mine, who volunteers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, tells me Asteroidea are not fish and in order to avoid confusion for children, the MBA would prefer for the public to call them sea stars. I point out that they're not stars, either. The starfish/sea star argument has become a bit of a running joke between us.

Come on! Starfish is one word right? If one follows the protocol of common names that entomologists use, then it's obvious it's not a true fish. For example, a dragonfly (Odonata) is not a true fly, but a house fly (Diptera) is. Do you see the difference? I'm not sure where I picked up this tidbit of info, but here's how I understand it: when it's two words, then the last noun accurately describes the thing in question; when it's one word, then it is not the thing stated. Does this make sense? Here are other examples of one-word nots: butterfly (Lepidoptera, not Diptera), ladybug (Coleoptera, not Hemiptera), caddisfly (Trichoptera, not Diptera), sawfly (Hymenoptera, not Diptera), mealybug (Homoptera, not Hemiptera). I maintain starfish is a perfectly acceptable common name. Phew! I'm done with my rant for the day.

ps 11/02/10 - For a better written post on this same topic (not starfish), see Bug Girl's post.

pss 03/14/12 - For whatever reason it's validating to see other bloggers blog about this same issue. See Jim Johnson of Northwest Dragonflier for another better written explanation.

lined shore crab ~ 02/24/10 ~ Coast Guard Pier

lined shore crab
Pachygrapsus crassipes

I always wondered what these crabs were. They're fun to watch as they froth foam from their mouths with the bigger pincher. It really has helped me to look these things up. I believe that's a common sea star (Asterias forbesi) in the lower left of the second pic.
Catoptrophorus semipalmatus

This fellow looks a little too slender compared to other willets I think I've seen, so I'm not positive about the ID. I'll admit my previous IDs for willets were based on seeing the obvious "black and white flashing wings" when they took flight. What do you think?
magnolia tree in Memory Garden

I can't believe it's been a whole month since the first flower to this. I always thought the blooms were quicker than this.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

arboreal salamander ~ 02/21/10 ~ Pacific Grove

arboreal salamander
Aneides lugubris
more information

My husband came home from an evening walk and announced he saw what might have been a dead lizard, newt, or salamander on the corner. I tossed on my shoes and ran back out with him to see what he found in the dark.

I was happy to discover this live salamander! My pictures were a bit fuzzy, so I brought him home to take a closer look. The salamander was surprisingly quick and agile.

I'm not 100% positive about my ID here, especially considering that before we looked it up online, I was trying to remember back to my basic biology class in college - something about 4 or 5 toes (lizards, btw!) and what was the difference between newts and salamanders. Haha! I did find this great herp site and from a fellow Pacific Grove resident to boot!

I fell in love with his sets of four moist toes and briefly considered keeping him as a pet. After repeatedly exclaiming how cute he was, even with his missing eye, we let him loose in the park below our balcony by the big oak tree instead of back on the street corner. I likened it to being picked up by a giant and plopped down in Nevada, but I figured he'd be much safer away from cars and evening dog walkers.

May you live long, my cute, one-eyed arboreal salamander!

ps 03/30/14 - After looking at my pictures of another arboreal salamander, I think the toe count is supposed to be 4 in the front and 5 in the back.  This individual is missing more than an eye, as its toe count is off.  I believe the slender salamanders (Batrachoseps spp.) are the only group with a max of 4 toes in the back.  Right?

Risso's dolphins
Grampus griseus

From our office window this morning I noticed the familiar, large disturbance in the bay waters - it looked like the v-shaped wake of a massive cruise ship, with a smattering of large, grey dorsal fins and spouts of white water. We quickly grabbed the camera and binoculars and ran out to the balcony to watch these dolphins. We estimate that there were almost a hundred individuals in this particular group. They were porpoising, spouting, breaching, and fluke waving, moving northward, and then seemed to stop right in front of us to feed. There was a large flock of gulls on the water surface, too.

I still vividly recall 2 years ago, witnessing a dolphin group at least 10 times this size, as far as I could see left to right, heading south towards the Monterey Bay Aquarium, during a pretty pink sunrise with a handful of boats tagging along; too bad I didn't think to take a picture back then. We like to quip to guests that the easiest way we spot whales and such in the bay is to keep a lookout for any congregation of whale watching boats. In 2009, I saw only 1 humpback from our balcony in late April without the aid of grouped boats, which was disappointing after we had numerous whale and dolphin sightings in 2008.

Even though we borrowed a cetacean book from a friend and learned about the identifying characteristics of spouts shapes, we had to reference one of the whale watching boat sites to deduce that it was a Risso's dolphin that we saw this morning. In addition to having poor zoom quality it's been drizzling, so my pictures aren't very good. At the very least, I'm glad to be recording our dolphin observation on this blog.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Townsend's warbler ~ 02/19/10 ~ at home

Townsend's warbler on coast Douglas fir
Dendroica townsendi on Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii

Yeah!!! I've been wanting to capture "my yellow-headed Zorro" on camera for a couple months, but he flits so quickly between the pine tree branches that I've had no luck until now. Considering I was up in WA for most of November and into half of December, I'm guessing I've seen him here since at least the last part of October 2009. He usually shows up every morning in the pine tree right by our balcony, but in the past two weeks I hadn't seen him at all and was starting to get disappointed that I may have missed my chance to document him.

I'm not much of a bird person and have found it extremely challenging to search online for bird IDs when I can't even name the general type of bird. In the process of my search, I found this incredible bird ID site and this Monterey County natural history site. Initially, I thought my fellow was a blackburnian warbler, but after considering its range map, I continued searching, even though this 2002 bird highlights claims blackburnians are sometimes found here - although, IMHO, I think the highlight ID was a mistake... what do you think?

Now, if only I can capture the dark-eyed junco that also regularly visits and tosses soil everywhere from my balcony planters.

ps 10/17/10 - I saw my first Townsend's this morning in many months. It must be that time of year (mid to late October). I like being able to track last year's observations. Plus, I still think the blackburnian 2002 bird highlight I mentioned earlier was a mistake. Look at the double row of shoulder stripes - it's got to be a Townsend's warbler.

pss 10/27/10 - I first thought my fella found himself a mate. It was cute. He was chasing another small bird with a pale yellow breast and light-colored wing stripes, but no dark cheek patch, through the trees. Once I looked it up, it must have been a goldfinch of some sort.

pss 10/04/14 - Spotted the first Townsend's of the season this morning. Last year I saw them as early as 09/15/13.

pss 10/07/16 - For the record, spotted my first Townsend's for the season.
black-tailed deer
Odocoileus hemionus columbianus

It's always surprising when I go downstairs to take out the trash and find these large deer foraging so close to the bins. I think I surprised them, too!

pride of Madeira ~ 02/19/10 ~ at home

pride of Madeira
Echium candicans


This bold purple flower is starting to bloom all around town right now; and yet, in the park below our balcony, this is all we have - a bit of green and dried-up stems from last year.

Monday, February 15, 2010

pelicans in the news

While coming back from an early morning walk (unfortunately, I don't remember which day in late February or early March), I came across a pelican huddled on the sidewalk, in the pouring rain, with 2 people standing guard, using big green trash cans as rain shields, and waiting for an animal rescue group. Seeing a pelican anywhere other than the air, a rock, or the wharf is very unusual, but I figured the people were tourists and were making a big deal out of nothing. I didn't really know what to think about the pelican. Maybe it was just waiting out the storm? What do pelicans and other birds do in the heavy rain, anyways? Just sit there? It wasn't until later that I heard about this problem and looked it up online:

State Fish and Game joins probe of pelican health problems
By Joe Segura Staff Writer
Daily Breeze

The state Department of Fish and Game has joined the probe into the brown pelican health crisis along the California coastline, including the San Pedro and Long Beach areas.
Since mid-January - especially following winter storms - an estimated 500 pelicans have been retrieved in various conditions, from merely confused to dead, the department announced last week.
Fish and Game officials are joining veterinarians, wildlife rescue and rehabilitation groups, Sea World, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others, pooling resources to pinpoint the health hazards.
The San Pedro-based International Bird Rescue Research Center has taken in more than 200 sick and injured pelicans, and its San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care and Education Center has received more than 100 pelicans, according to a news release. Other wildlife rescue centers around the state are also providing emergency treatment.
According to the department, preliminary research shows that many of the insulating properties of the pelicans' feathers have been compromised - most likely by polluted runoff water. Most of the rescued birds are suffering from hypothermia.
Necropsies have found that pelicans are eating unusual prey, which indicates they are having trouble finding or accessing their normal diet of anchovies and sardines.
Results of various tissue and organ analyses are not yet available to help determine the cause of the die-off. El Nino conditions in the marine environment may be a factor.
IBRRC is feeding the captured birds with more than 1,000 pounds of fish per day between its two centers, but the Department of Fish and Game has no funds to contribute. It has sent biologists to assist with pelican care in Cordelia, Calif., and volunteers in Southern California to assess the number of dead pelicans on beaches.
Tax-deductible donations can be made online to
Anyone encountering ill or injured pelicans should not touch or approach them. Report pelicans in distress at 800-39-WHALE.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Corral de Tierra - aka Pastures of Heaven
February 13, 2010

On a whim a month ago, we took the Corral de Tierra Road off of Hwy 68 just to check it out. I loved it! I didn't know my husband had run a 10K here years ago called "Pastures of Heaven", a name we laughed about because it seemed so silly; but come to find out it's named such thanks to John Steinbeck's book.

Corral de Tierra Road is a closer and easier drive than Carmel Valley Road for checking out spring wildflowers. We returned today with hopes to see some early blooms. Not much was blooming besides Bermuda buttercups and a yellow mustard (no, not the condiment). We plan to return in another month. Unfortunately, since most of the land is private, there's not much chance that we can hike on foot in the area.
red hot poker
Kniphofia uvaria

This is the flower that last year I said looked superficially like a locally prevalent blooming aloe, which btw is also blooming profusely right now along the rec trail. I had hoped this torch lily was a native, but no such luck. It's from South Africa.

habitat ~ 02/13/10 ~ Pacific Grove Shoreline Park

Pacific Grove Shoreline Park
February 13, 2010

It's difficult to capture a sense of scale in photos without an obvious reference such as a person or a hand. We had unusually humongous waves this past week (especially considering there hasn't been a storm system in our area for over a week) and it was incredibly noisy at night. In fact, a tourist drowned at nearby Carmel Beach today (which incidentally makes me think twice about volunteering this coming season for grunion greeting... at night with no lights, at high tide, at Carmel Beach with strong rip currents... hmm?). Also, further north at the infamous Maverick Surf Contest in Half Moon Bay, several spectators were severely injured by rogue waves. Gotta have a healthy respect for Mother Nature!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

sunrise from home
February 11, 2010

I think the reason I have so many February sunrises on camera is because the time of sunrise is late enough for me to have had my coffee already and there's little fog to get in the way. I like the almost-rainbow effect in this shot. I'm guessing it's a halo. I'd appreciate it if anyone could enlighten me as to what this optical phenomena is officially called.

Monday, February 8, 2010

seagull on power pole at sunrise
February 8, 2010

I thought this was pretty, so am including it.

Since I don't have any other place to record these kinds of observations, I'm posting it here. We had quite a bit of rain on Friday and Saturday, after which I noticed massive amounts of this bright yellow pollen collected everywhere. My nose has been running like no one's business for at least a week and I swear I've gone through a whole box of Kleenex! I'm wondering if I have allergies to this pollen. Does it come from the pine trees? Or the oaks?

ps 02/17/10 - My nose is still dripping like mad. Makes me rethink that cold I thought I had last year for 2 months!

pss 02/22/10 - With today's rain, my nose seems to have finally stopped dripping. Yeah!

pss 01/26/11 - Noticed a light dusting of yellow pollen on many parked cars for the first time this year. I still haven't figured out if the pollen comes from the pines or the oaks.

Friday, February 5, 2010

habitat ~ 02/05/10 ~ Monterey Bay Recreation Trail

Monterey Bay Recreation Trail
February 2, 2010

I was attempting to capture all 3 flowers in one pic to show what's blooming right now. The bright orange flower is definitely a California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) because of the red ring at the base of the encased bud. The seaside daisy (Erigeron glaucus) is in the back with the spoon-shaped leaves. And the bright yellow Bermuda buttercup (Oxalis pres-caprae) is the non-native flower in the mix.

godwit, willet, gull ~ 02/05/10 ~ Monterey Municipal Beach

marbled godwit, willet, & gull
Limosa fedoa & Catoptrophorus semipalmatus

We saw a huge flock of shore birds on the beach, a calm one which we normally visit for grunion greeting nights. Once we got closer, it looked like there were 2 kinds of birds chasing the waves and pecking at the sand. The marbled godwits are the tan birds with two-toned beaks and the willets are the grey birds.
elephant seal and harbor seals

We've noticed in the past couple of months that one or two elephant seals have been beaching where the local harbor seals usually hang on the north side of Stanford's Hopkins Marine Station. We don't know if this is a recently new occurrence or if we're simply more aware of our local nature.

ps 02/11/10 - Two nights ago when I couldn't sleep, I stepped out on our balcony and heard the familiar deep, Harley-Davidson type grunt, grunt from the elephant seal. I'll be curious to see if our local beaches end up being a popular spot for the massive Miroungas.

coots ~ 02/05/10 ~ El Estero

American coot
Fulica americana

This flock can almost always be seen near the corner of Camino El Estero and Fremont Avenue in Monterey on the shores of Lake El Estero. They are funny looking birds. I'd love to see a downy young with a bald red head some time.

ps 12/15/10 - It looks like the adults leave our area from around mid-May to mid-October. I don't think I would have particularly noticed their absence if it weren't for the fact we were looking for juvenile coots this spring and summer and were surprised we couldn't even find the adults.
harbor seal

This is a very typical scene from the rec trail near Fisherman's Wharf. This seal is particularly fat and made me laugh thinking how the heck it got up on the rock.

happy wanderer ~ 02/05/10 ~ Cannery Row

happy wanderer
Hardenbergia sp.

This picture looks similar to the one I posted January 31, 2009, but the scale is very different. This particular one, next to an antiques mall about 20 yards from the rec trail in Cannery Row, was massive - at least 10 feet tall and stretched the whole length of the parking lot! I'm actually thinking this might be H. comptoniana due to what appears to be multi-foliolate leaves, but there are many cultivars of H. violacea. The next time I walk by, I'll take a closer look at the leaves. It's a native of Australia.